In 1471, Portuguese King Afonso V's troops captured Asilah and Tangier in (today's) Morocco. To commemorate his victories, the king commissioned sumptuous tapestries depicting the conquest in wool and silk woven 15 feet high and 35 feet long, a Renaissance version of a cast-of-thousands Hollywood spectacular.
Afonso V's conquests were an opening salvo in Europe's age of exploration and exploitation, "one of the first outward movements of the Portuguese empire that 50 years later is all the way to China," says curator Karina Corrigan of the Peabody Essex Museum, where the four recently conserved tapestries arrive in the exhibit "The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries."
One textile depicts a forest of ship masts and lances as the Portuguese land at Asilah. You can pick out the king and his son from among the hundreds of soldiers surrounding the city by their gleaming armor. It turns bloody in the third tapestry when Portuguese swordsmen storm the city. In the fourth tapestry, North Africans abandon Tangier to the European army without a fight to avoid a similar fate. The tapestries trumpet Portuguese power and wealth, but you'll get caught up in the details: monkeys perched in ships' rigging, blood spilling down necks, tangerine trees, escaping civilians carrying away their curly-haired babies.
"THE INVENTION OF GLORY":: Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, Salem :: Through December 31
: Museum And Gallery
, Peabody Essex Museum, Art, gallery, More